The Missed Market

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Race, age, gender, education and income. These are the prisms through which we typically view demographics. In this month's cover story, Senior Editor Rebecca Gardyn asks whether sexual orientation should be added to the mix. In “A Market Kept in the Closet,� (page 36) Gardyn says that some U.S. companies have begun to recognize gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) Americans as a consumer segment. However, a lack of consistent and comparative data on this group's spending habits and media preferences is creating a blind spot for businesses. “No one knows, for instance, what percentage of gay men regularly watch NBC's Will & Grace, which features a gay lead character,� Gardyn writes. “Nor do they know how that percentage might compare with other audience segments or with the audiences of other TV shows.�

Some marketing experts contend that sexual orientation influences consumer behavior — just as significantly as a person's age, gender and ethnicity. Yet, for various reasons — methodological, political, emotional — the research data that compares the buying or media trends of other demographic segments does not yet exist for the GLBT population, estimated at anywhere from 11 million to 23 million Americans. As a result of this data drought, advertisers who have identified the GLBT market as a potentially lucrative one are commissioning their own proprietary studies — when they can afford to do so. Such an approach does little to make precise information about this group widely available. Still, what we do know makes this a desirable market to target. By some estimates, the GLBT population wields some $340 billion in annual discretionary spending.

Also in this issue, we reexamine another type of “alternative� lifestyle: the growing number of married couples choosing not to have children. It's a trend we identified eight years ago. In “Planning No Family, Now or Ever,� (October 1993), we noted that the Census Bureau predicted that 13 percent to 15 percent of women age 35 to 39 wouldn't have children. Today, census figures show that 19 percent of all women between the ages of 40 and 44 are childless. What's more, in relation to total married couples, the number of households without children is actually on the rise, notes Associate Editor Pamela Paul in “Childless by Choice� (page 44). In 1970, 71 percent of all households were married couples, of which 30 percent were childless. In 2000, 53 percent of households are married couples; 29 percent are childless. Says Paul: “Despite our country's obsession with family values, more couples are opting out of the club. But childless couples say they are either overlooked or looked down upon by society and businesses.�

According to an exclusive analysis conducted by Third Wave Research for American Demographics, having fewer mouths to feed means that childless couples spend much more money on themselves, across all consumer categories. That's why some marketers are already taking notice.

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